If there was a Hall of Fame for the most reviled household pests, I’m confident that bed bugs would have been the very first inductees! Bed bugs are so insidious and so common that most people either have a bed bug horror story of their own, or know someone who has one.
Realizing you have bed bugs can be incredibly stressful, but it also isn’t the end of the world. There are plenty of things you can do to contain the problem and even eliminate it entirely in time, and today’s post is meant to help in that effort!
Related: How to Get Rid of Silverfish
I’ve put together a helpful and informative guide to all things bed bugs, from what they are to containment tips and beyond. By the end of this post, you’ll know exactly what you can and should do to get rid of bed bugs, and how to keep them out of your house in the future too!
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are small, oval, brown-colored insects that survive on the blood of humans and animals. Adults have flat bodies and are about the size of an apple seed (though if they have fed recently, they may appear slightly larger and more reddish in color.)
One factor that makes bed bugs such a hassle are their secretive tendencies—they prefer to roam around at night, and are expert at staying hidden during the day. They prefer to stay close to their feeding area (AKA your bed, sofa, etc.), and often gather in the nooks and crannies of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, and a side tables. (They’ve even been known to squeeze into cracks and crevices behind wall plates and baseboards!)
Eradicating a bed bug infestation can take time, because if even a single pregnant female gets left behind, her babies will eventually start the infestation over again. When you also consider that a typical bed bug’s lifespan is 6-12 months, it’s easy to see why it can be so tricky to get rid of bed bugs for good!
How To Tell If You Have Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are great hiders, but you don’t have to see the actual bugs to be able to tell they’re there. The three most obvious evidence of bed bugs includes:
- Shed skins/exoskeletons that bed bugs leave behind
- Feces or fecal stains on your mattress and bedding
- Blood stains on your sheets and pajamas
Look for these signs (and keep your eyes peeled for live bed bugs too) in bed bugs’ favorite hiding places, including near mattress and box spring tags, bed frame and headboard cracks, in baseboards, between couch cushions, in furniture joints, inside electrical outlets, under loose wallpaper, and even behind frames and posters on the walls.
Of course, if may not be a mystery to you at all if bed bugs are already making a meal of you! Symptoms of bed bug bites include raised welts, burning/itching, a rash in a localized area, and straight lines of multiple bites.
How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs
Once you’ve confirmed that you do indeed have a bed bugs, you have an important choice to make: contact a pest control company with experience in eradicating bed bug infestations, or attempt a do-it-yourself bed bug treatment. The first option is by far the best way to go, but pest management services can be pricey and may be beyond your means.
If you do choose to go the DIY route, you should be prepared for a potentially lengthy and difficult process. However, it isn’t impossible to control bed bugs on your own, and with diligence and hard work, you stand a fighting chance of success!
(Oh, and if you live in an apartment building, make sure to alert the property manager about your bed bugs. They can easily move from apartment to apartment, so it’s best to stage a coordinated effort so they don’t take over the building.)
Here’s an overview of how to get rid of bed bugs on your own:
1. Clean The Area Thoroughly
Before you start addressing the bugs themselves, it’s important to clear the area of excess clutter and clean it thoroughly. This will not only narrow the field of potential places where bed bugs hide, but it may also reveal other hiding places you hadn’t checked yet.
Get stuff like papers, magazines, clothes, and other items in the area up off the floor. Apply caulking to seal up any cracks around electrical outlets, baseboards, light switches, and inspect all other seams and crevices with a flashlight.
Check and clean the area behind framed art and posters on the wall, and take out all drawers and cushions from any furniture in the area and inspect them. If you find infested surfaces, scrub them with a stiff brush to dislodge bed bugs and their eggs.
For non-washable items like books, delicates, and odds and ends, you can place these in heavy-duty, tightly sealed plastic bags with Nuvan strips. The strips release a pesticide that will kill any bed bugs hidden in your stuff. (Keep in mind that you must be extremely careful with these and follow any and all safety instructions, because they can be hazardous to both humans and pets.)
2. Strip And Examine Your Bed
Strip any washable linens off of your bed, put them into double trash bags, and tie each bag closed with a tight knot. (This will help keep any bed bugs contained until you’re ready to wash them.)
When you load the bedding into your washing machine, discard the trash bags in an outdoor trash can. Wash your bedding in hot water for at least 30 minutes, then dry it on the hottest setting your dryer offers.
(And speaking of your dryer, you can use it to efficiently kill bedbugs that may be lurking in other fabric items like shoes, stuffed animals, blankets, pillows, cushions, etc. Put fabric items in your dryer on high heat for at least 1 hour.)
Back to the bed. Pull your bed away from the wall and any surrounding furniture, and examine the mattress, bed frame, and box spring closely with a flashlight. Pay close attention to any rips, seams, or tufts in the fabric, and check the underside of everything too. If you find bed bugs, grab your stiff brush and scrub!
3. Vacuum And Protect Your Bed
Use your vacuum’s upholstery attachment to vacuum all the surfaces on your mattress, box spring, and pillows, and the carpet around and under your bed. (This won’t remove deeply harbored bed bugs, but it will help reduce their numbers.)
After vacuuming, dispose of the contents of the dust cup outside, and thoroughly clean the vacuum cleaner before bringing it back inside. Next, install bed bug-proof covers on your mattress, box spring, and/or pillows. (You can find bed bug proof mattress encasements, box spring encasements, and pillow protectors online.)
These covers completely encase the item you put them on, and when they are zipped closed, not even the smallest of bed bugs can get out to bite you, or get in to hide or breed. Installing these bed bug barriers will go a long way toward helping you get your infestation under control! (Just be sure to leave them on and sealed for at least 1 year to ensure that any bed bugs that got trapped inside are dead.)
DIY Bed Bug Treatments
In addition to the steps outlined above, there are other bed bug treatments you can use alone or together to help in getting rid of bed bugs. In this section, we’ll explore three types of bed bug treatments: traps, temperature, and chemicals.
Use Bed Bug Traps
When dealing with bed bugs, it’s important to “make your bed an island.” This means pulling it away from the wall and other furniture, using encasements, and keeping bedding on the bed and not letting it dangle off the edge.
This ensures that the only way for bed bugs to get onto your bed is by the legs of your bed frame. And when you combine this tactic with a few moat-style traps, you make it much more difficult for bed bugs to get at you!
Moat-style traps go under the legs of your bed frame (or other furniture) and surrounds them. The textured exterior of the trap allows bugs to climb up the side, but once they do, they’ll fall into the moat which is too smooth for the bugs to climb out of!
Kill Them With Steam
Many professionals rely on heat treatments for killing bed bugs, which can be replicated at home using either your dryer (as discussed previously), or using a steamer. Bed bugs and their eggs will die if exposed to temperatures greater than 122°F, and since water turns to steam at 212°F, steam is hot enough to kill bed bugs instantly.
You can use a steamer while inspecting your mattress and box spring, eliminating bed bugs as you go. Be careful though, as steam may damage certain finishes, and of course, it shouldn’t be used near electricity either.
(While cold temperatures can also kill bed bugs, this isn’t a useful at-home approach. It would take 4 days at 0°F to kill a bed bug with cold temperatures, so stick to heat treatments instead!)
There are 300 different products that are EPA registered for bed bug control, but all of them fall into one of a few basic categories. Here’s an overview of the different types of bed bug killing chemicals, and a some pros and cons of each:
- Pyrethrins/pyrethroids – Pyrethrins are insecticides derived from chrysanthemum flowers, while pyrethroids are their synthetic equivalents. Both kill bed bugs, but some populations have become resistant to them.
- Desiccants – Desiccants like diatomaceous earth work by compromising bed bugs’ waxy outer coating, causing them to dehydrate and die. Because desiccants kill bed bugs by physical means, they can’t develop a resistance to them.
- Insect growth regulators – Chemicals like methoprene and hydropene mimic juvenile growth hormones in insects and affect development, either causing insects to develop too rapidly or preventing them from developing into fertile adults.
- Carbamates – Carbamates like bendiocarb and propoxer are thought to be more effective than pyrethrins, though bed bug resistance to carbamates has been increasing.
- Neonicotinoids – These are synthetic forms of nicotine, and they work by affecting the nervous system into failure. Bed bugs can’t develop a resistance to neonicotinoids, but they don’t offer a residual effect either.
- Pyrroles – Only one pyrrole pesticide (chlorfenapyr) is currently registered, and there is no known resistance, though it is slow acting.
A Warning About Foggers
Foggers (or “bug bombs”) are often thought of as the easiest way to utilize insecticides, but they come with serious drawbacks. The first one is that it’s very easy to expose yourself to hazardous chemicals and fumes from using them incorrectly.
The second drawback is that foggers can send bed bugs scattering from infested areas, which may just push them into another area (or another room altogether!) For these reasons, it’s best to avoid foggers altogether when it comes to tackling bed bugs.
BONUS: Keeping Bed Bugs Out Of Your House
- The best defense against bed bugs is a good offense! Here are a few tips that will prevent bed bugs from unknowingly entering your home:
- When you return from a trip, wash any clothing and bedding you used in hot water ASAP.
- When you buy used furniture, inspect all items thoroughly for signs of bed bugs before bringing it into your home.
- Don’t bring bed frames, mattresses, box springs, or upholstered furniture that have been discarded outdoors in your home!
Have you ever dealt with bed bugs?